This post is part of a series reflecting on this year of service in honor of our 2011-2012 corps graduation on Wednesday.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s very rewarding.” That was the phrase I was told over and over last July when I met corps members from the year before, as I was moving into my house. How vague I thought. I came to San Jose, thousands of miles away from places I called home; for the weather. The city has around 320 sunny days a year the website boasted, and I was sold. The kids? I had worked in schools before, how difficult could teaching be?
Well my naiveté was quickly proven as on the first day of summer school I asked a fourth grader, whom I would later work with, what the number after 3 was. I was met with a blank stare. Thus started my immersion into City Year culture, San Jose culture, and elementary school culture. The terminology and acronyms which once seemed so foreign, like ATA, TL, Starfish and Ripple now come naturally, and I find myself using them in external conversations. I can write a lesson plan in under five minutes and recite the Peacebuilders pledge backwards. Slowly, very slowly my Spanish has grown, and now I find myself adding hot sauce to most of the food I eat. After more than a few incidents I can navigate the whole city by bike. And as for the kids, I can do a carpie in two- square, smell a bag of Takis from a mile away (only to confiscate them… okay and maybe eat a few), and my marble collection is extensive.
Yes, there were times I went home overwhelmed by all the work I had done and still had to do. Frustrated because, you can only sound out the word cat so many times, and the fourth graders were giving me attitude again. Then there were days like when Frankie told me he was saving his pennies for college, Maria asked if she could read another book to me, Jose blended the word graduation perfectly, and Christina used the word immense in a sentence. On these days I went home and bragged to anyone who would listen (my roommates can attest to this).
Though I certainly didn’t realize or appreciate it at the time, the hardest moments were the ones that helped me grow. The words patience, patience, patience come to my mind, and I’m sure they come to my teammates as well. My teammates, who have taught me to be more professional, less serious, and more “inclusive.” Without them this year would’ve been impossible. I have been lucky enough to see the magic that is possible when very different people come together for a common purpose, and yes more city year jargon, collaborate. It’s hard to sum up my year in writing, but I do know what I’ll tell next year’s corps members when I’m moving out. I will say, “It’s a lot of work, but it’s very rewarding.”
-Dani Alkon, Corps Member CYSJ